Marked For Death: 0-2 Teams Slide a Cleat Into the Grave
by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
A gaggle of egregious eight
Red lettered an early fate
Mid September chill
Backdrops premature kill
Given names prefaced, "The Late"
The 1993 Dallas Cowboys. The 2001 New England Patriots. The 2007 New York Giants. The trembling rasps of the 0-2 football team cites these rarities as cause for optimism, all the while their voice cracks falsetto like a faulty radio dial.
Their skin tenderizes in terror, a self-marination that awakens the senses of the resting vulture. The more a team kicks and screams, trying to outrun the inevitable, the more palatable they become to nature's beaked removal service.
All the easier for me; I don't have to prep the bodies for an open casket viewing if the remains are bones picked clean. It took me three hours to file the horns off of Al Davis' barren skull before I realized the lid would be closed. What a wasted Saturday *that* was.
Where was I? Ahh, yes, the 0-2 team, and the faint death rattle that nags at their ears with a timpani's thud. Only six teams in the past ten seasons have started 0-2, and made the postseason.
Adding ricketiness to that tattered draw bridge is the reality that no 0-2 club has made the playoffs since 2008, when both the Vikings and Chargers defied the odds. Neither came within striking distance of Lombardi's treasure, but they each have a taproom tale to share with other staggering starters.
Let's look at the eight walking the razor's edge, and examine both their deficiencies, as well as their daunting roads ahead.
LOSSES: 16-9 vs. Titans, 20-10 at Bengals
WEAKNESS: a rock-bottom offense that's been thrown a shovel, and told to keep digging. Pittsburgh's running game averages a pitiful 2.45 yards a touch. Felix Jones leads the team with 37 yards on the ground, ranking him 54th across the league.
Converting just 28 percent of your third downs doesn't help either, as the absence of Maurkice Pouncey gives Ben Roethlisberger less time heave a drive-extending frozen rope.
NEXT THREE GAMES: vs. Chicago, at Minnesota, a bye week in between, then at the Jets. Chicago's been a skosh less lockdown on defense, but Pittsburgh can certainly help them pad their numbers.
The Vikings and Jets provide enough inconsistent quarterback play that Pittsburgh could reverse their fortunes with great defensive efforts. Even though the team has only one sack and nary an interception thus far, there's hope for a reversal of fortune coming soon.
EDUCATED GUESS: 2-3
LOSSES: 23-10 vs. Dolphins, 14-6 at Ravens
WEAKNESS: try as the defense does, Cleveland's offense lacks thrash. It's the meek-bodied man attempting to break bullet proof glass with shoulder bumps. Brandon Weeden's 62.0 passer rating, and his 54.7 completion percentage, have gotten him benched for Brian Hoyer.
Not that Hoyer can help the running game. Trent Richardson's repeating his slow start from last season, running for a mere 105 yards on 31 carries. That 3.39 average isn't befitting of a man taken third overall last year.
NEXT THREE GAMES: at Minnesota, vs. Cincinnati, and vs. Buffalo. Hard to say whether or not Rob Chudzinski will unlock any inner-demon Hoyer may or may not have, but the longtime backup's itinerary isn't exactly murderer's row. For Cleveland, however, it might be.
The Vikings could be a jump start, especially given the Browns' 2.02 defensive rushing YPA average. Cincinnati, if it avoids turnovers, can lock down the Browns offense with their usual effort. Even Buffalo and their 77.87 Defensive Passer Rating isn't favoring Cleveland.
EDUCATED GUESS: 1-4
LOSSES: 28-2 vs. Chiefs, 19-9 at Raiders
WEAKNESS: even the mal-educated can see that 5.5 points per game isn't cutting it. When you're on pace to score just 88 points for the season, it's clear the two heads of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are leading the blind into foggy yonder.
The quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times in two games, and Gabbert's thrown two picks. A sack or an interception occurs against Jacksonville's signal callers on 14.44 percent of dropbacks. The machine simply has too many faulty parts.
NEXT THREE GAMES: at Seattle, vs. Indianapolis, and at St. Louis. Unless Gus Bradley buys off his former players this Sunday, expect dismemberment not seen on the Pacific coast since the foot discoveries in the Salish Sea.
Although the Colts and Rams don't have the definitive firepower to exploit Jacksonville's league-worst 5.58 YPA defensive rushing average, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford can smoothly navigate the tranquil straits. Alex Smith and Terrelle Pryor did just that, I recall.
EDUCATED GUESS: 0-5
New York Giants
LOSSES: 36-31 at Cowboys, 41-23 vs. Broncos
WEAKNESS: the worst of both worlds. With no running attack (at least one without constant fear of fumbles), Eli Manning has had to shoulder more of the burden. And that shoulder's thrown seven interceptions, the most in the league.
Not that the defense is holding up any better. The 38.5 points per game given up are the worst after two games. Also cellar-dwelling is the team's Bendability rating. Opponents score a touchdown every 67.90 yards gained, lowest average in the NFL.
NEXT THREE GAMES: at Carolina, at Kansas City, and vs. Philadelphia. The Panthers and Chiefs provide surprisingly tough defenses, although their offenses could be reckoned with. Carolina's certainly winnable, but staving off Alex's Smith's dump-off game is a challenge.
Speaking of challenging, the Giants' wounded-duck defense faces an Eagles team with quite a facelift. Reanimated with the up-tempo punch, forget about swapping personnel. It's poor players getting worn out, making them even poorer. Quite unfair, really.
EDUCATED GUESS: 1-4
LOSSES: 33-27 vs. Eagles, 38-20 at Packers
WEAKNESS: the mutants in the galley cry for Robert Griffin III to take a seat in favor of Kirk Cousins. Whether his knee is close to pristine or not, RG3 is not the issue here. His 89.58 passer rating may not be up to 2012 standards, but it's not why the team is sinking.
No, the Redskins are undone by a dreadful defense. Any team that severs ties with DeAngelo Hall, only to bring him back, is in for a ripping squall. Allowing 35.5 points a game, six touchdown passes, 5.51 yards per rush, and making zero interceptions is a death sentence.
NEXT THREE GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Oakland, a bye week, then at Dallas. Those first two games look so winnable, don't they? Matthew Stafford disagrees, knowing that he can fling arrows to Calvin Johnson in the Skins' marshmallow secondary.
The Raiders are doppelgangers of the Redskins at their best, with Terrelle Pryor, Darren McFadden, and Marcel Reece driving the league's best rushing offense. Dallas may shockingly be the easiest game, given Griffin's familiarity in beating them twice.
EDUCATED GUESS: 1-4
LOSSES: 34-24 at Lions, 31-30 at Bears
WEAKNESS: a heroic offense can possibly drag a decaying defense across the finish line. Adrian Peterson's 193 yards on the ground would curve to 1544 at his pace. Impressive, yes, but not up to his Herculean levels of last year.
Peterson could use his 2012 touch, as his defense isn't holding up their end. Incredibly, the Vikings have six turnovers on defense, yet are still allowing 48 percent of third downs to convert. They also have just one sack, and are allowing 32.5 points a game.
NEXT THREE GAMES: vs. Cleveland, vs. Pittsburgh, a bye week, and vs. Carolina. Not only are the next three are against winless wanderers, but after the Panthers, the Giants loom large. There's no time like now to reverse the downward spiral.
Ah, but Cleveland is the best defense against the run (2.02 YPA), so might that nullify Peterson? Pittsburgh may be more susceptible, given how Giovani Bernard cut them up. Carolina can be toppled if Minnesota finally gets its defensive act together, and picks up some sacks.
EDUCATED GUESS: 2-3
LOSSES: 12-7 vs. Seahawks, 24-23 at Bills
WEAKNESS: The Panthers offense just can't match their defense's best efforts so far. The D held Seattle to one touchdown and two field goals, while holding Buffalo to 17 points until the final seconds. Cam Newton and company have yet to capitalize fully.
On CHFF's Scoreability meter, the Panthers' rating is a below-average 18.37, ninth worst in the league. That means they score one point for every 18.37 yards gained. That works out to a touchdown every 128.59 yards of offense gained.
NEXT THREE GAMES: vs. Giants, a bye week, then at Arizona, and at Minnesota. One would surmise a resurrection for the unsure-shot Eli Manning, but the Panthers defense is so fierce in the red zone (a touchdown every 156.73 yards allowed, fourth best in the NFL).
After a week's respite, it's off to Arizona, where the Cardinals' average pass defense could open up a big day for Newton's arm. As far as the Vikings go, if Newton avoids their attempts at pass rush peril, there's another chance for his uninhibited arm to unleash its fury.
EDUCATED GUESS: 3-2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LOSSES: 18-17 at Jets, 16-14 vs. Saints
WEAKNESS: The Schiano Mutiny, manufactured or not by the chop-licking media, provides framework for a juicy contrast: the coach who demands discipline and instills structure watches as his defenders make one boneheaded blunder after another.
Both losses came with their opponents hitting field goals at the bell, aided by a needless Lavonte David foul and an icewater-fueled Drew Brees drive. If Josh Freeman (63.0 passer rating, 45.3 percent in completions) manned the offense better, the games would have different ending scenarios.
NEXT THREE GAMES: at New England, vs. Arizona, a week off, and then vs. Philadelphia. Foolish is the man who believes Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will lose at home, with ten days rest, to an undisciplined and possibily divided team. That's a wager for the masochists.
Tampa's greatest strength is stopping the run, which bodes well for the Cardinals, who are far more pass happy. As for the Eagles, it's bad enough that the defense makes glaring mistakes. Imagine trying to avoid making them without being able to substitute personnel.
EDUCATED GUESS: 1-4
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